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Port: Brett Favre, selective outrage, and our deeply unhealthy obsession with sports

Where is the outrage when college coaches see their multi-million dollar salaries subsidized by student loans? Where is the anger when billionaire professional sports team owners reach into taxpayers' wallets to subsidize a new stadium they could afford to build on their own?

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Former NFL quarterback Brett Favre stands with his bust during the 2016 NFL Hall of Fame enshrinement Aug. 6, 2016, at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium.
Aaron Doster / USA TODAY Sports
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MINOT, N.D. — Brett Favre is getting roasted, and I'm here for it.

I don't bear the man any animosity because of his football career and team affiliations. I'd have to care about football before that could be true. But I will admit to some schadenfreude over the suspension of his SiriusXM talk show , and the calls for him to be expelled from the National Football League's hall of fame.

Though there's probably little chance of the latter happening. O.J. Simpson is still in the hall of fame, despite having been found responsible for murder in civil court. Lawrence Taylor is still there, despite pleading guilty to criminal misdemeanors after soliciting underage girls for sex.

Americans love their sports heroes a bit too much.

More on that in a moment.

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If you need to catch up, Favre stands accused of being part of a conspiracy, involving public officials in Mississippi, to divert millions of welfare dollars. Favre, personally, saw dollars sent to a biotech firm he was invested in, and a volleyball program his daughter played for, and about $1.1 million into his own wallet for "promotional appearances," The New York Times reports .

"If you were to pay me,” Favre texted to one person who has already pleaded guilty to fraud charges , "is there any way the media can find out where it came from and how much?”

And we're supposed to believe that this guy didn't know he was up to no good?

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Favre, at the very least, was in business with people who had organized a scheme to steal public funds appropriated for the benefit of poor people and give them to rich people. He hasn't been charged with a crime, yet, but that may well be coming.

But as Favre gets his comeuppance, can we consider the other ways we funnel money to sports millionaires and billionaires at the expense of everyday Americans?

Look at how often the public is asked to subsidize stadiums for the billionaire owners of professional sports teams so their millionaire athletes can have a nice place to play.

The recently built Minneapolis stadium for the Minnesota Vikings (Favre's former team, as it happens) is a classic example. Minnesotans were "plundered" by the Vikings, City Journal senior editor Steven Malanga wrote in 2018 .

"Though it lent its balance sheet to the deal, the city of Minneapolis, according to critics — including one former city councilman — has been 'hosed' by the Vikings," he wrote. "The city officially contributed $150 million to stadium construction, but these observers contend that that figure doesn’t include expensive infrastructure improvements that Minneapolis was forced to make. As part of the stadium package, Minneapolis also agreed to send $7.5 million a year in operating subsidies to the authority running the facility, which amounts to $225 million over the course of the deal."

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Malanga also notes that if the revenues supporting the bonds for the stadium fall short, it's Minnesota's taxpayers who are on the hook.

Though it's not just professional sports teams who get sweetheart deals. Student loan debt has become such a crisis that President Joe Biden ( with dubious legal authority ) has issued an executive order forgiving hundreds of billions of dollars in loans. Yet there is little public outcry when students are asked to subsidize the big-money sports programs on campus.

At North Dakota State University, despite a string of national football championships supposedly bolstering revenue, the athletics programs were subsidized with student fees and dollars from the university's nonathletic revenues (mostly tuition and taxpayer appropriations) to the tune of $626.18 per student in 2019, according to data disclosed to the NCAA .

The picture is uglier at the University of North Dakota, where the per-student figure was $1,048.94.

This isn't a North Dakota-specific problem. Most collegiate athletic programs around the country — collectively a multi-billion dollar industry where coaches earn millions and student-athletes pretty much nothing — are subsidized by students and taxpayers.

Which should make us wonder just how much of the roughly $1.6 trillion in student loan debt held by Americans went to subsidize football, hockey, and basketball, etc.?

In Mississippi, a group of people, possibly including Brett Favre, a man who earned roughly $140 million for throwing a ball , engaged in a furtive conspiracy to steal millions from poor people. That's awful, and people are rightfully outraged.

But where is that outrage when college coaches see their multi-million dollar salaries subsidized by student loans? Where is the anger when billionaire professional sports team owners reach into taxpayers' wallets to subsidize a new stadium they could afford to build on their own?

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Are we really so blinkered in our obsession with sports that we can't see what's going on?

Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at rport@forumcomm.com. Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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